Pet Air Travel, Plus a Road Trip

By Elsa in motion
Sunday, March 05, 2017

According to the humans one of the biggest decisions they had to take on relocating to Canada is how I will travel. After investigating every possibility they returned to the initial idea, I will travel on the cargo hold of their plane.

The decision wasn't taken on a whim, the first discarded options were the cruise and cargo ships as they became 'non-options' for different reasons.

Elsa, English Setter dog, mid water shake by the Dordogne river in France.

The Queen Mary 2, only cruise to take pets on board as far as we know, rarely goes to Canada and when it does, it goes to Halifax in Nova Scotia, too far from our final destination in Western Canada! We could travel from Southampton (UK) to New York and then cross to Canada, but the US travel issues at the moment adds an extra layer of uncertainty we rather not deal with.

There are still rumours about travelling on freighters (cargo ships) with dogs, but we never heard of anyone who did find one who would take them with their pets. And before we even contacted them, we realized it would take over a month to get from France to Western Canada and we all agreed that was too long for us, specially me.

After that the only choices left were air cargo or cargo hold of human passenger planes. The first online searches pointed to air cargo planes as the safer option.

Abandoning me in France is not considered an option by the humans (great, right?!)... so to minimize the dangers and stress of the trip the humans decided to change their travel plans too!
Pet deaths, loss or injury give airlines a lot of bad PR, nowadays the majority of commercial airlines, if not all, will not transport brachycephalic breeds on the cargo hold of their passenger planes in the name of safety.

Brachycephalic pets are 'short-nosed' dogs, such as Pugs, Shih Tzus, Pekingese, Boxers, and cats such as Burmese, Himalayan, Persian, among others. These pets due to their short muzzles may have difficulty breathing normally which could be worsened by the trip's stress, heat and being overweight.

Most airlines will allow brachycephalic pets in the cabin, if they are small enough, size and weight permitted vary depending on the airlines and planes, the carrier must fit in the space under the seat in front. Otherwise the options for those pets are air cargo planes or flying private with companies that cater to pets.

Luckily I have a looong muzzle, but the humans were thinking of sending me via cargo anyway. The reasoning behind it went a bit like if the commercial airlines think that sending the most at risk pets via cargo is better, it must be safer overall for any pet.

Elsa, English Setter dog, walking by the Dordogne river in France.

There are lots of information about dogs in the cargo hold of human passenger planes, overheating, being neglected during layovers, others have being shipped to the wrong destination when their humans changed plane, etc. And not all stories have a happy ending.

The air cargo sites seem to portray it in this light, many promising a more tailored service to pets, specialized handling, veterinary care if needed and the basic walk out of the crate during extended layovers. Some airlines even have kennel facilities in major hubs.

So we thought I would be safer if handled by cargo personnel that are used to transport live animals and may be more careful than cargo hold luggage handlers. While searching for what pet services are offered by air cargo planes to Canada, what we found at Air Canada Cargo seemed perfect, and more importantly it sounded safe.

We started the arrangements for my trip. We found out there is one daily Air Canada Cargo flight from France to Canada, and we were informed that every pet always transits through Toronto. The humans would be in another plane and would arrive around two hours after my cargo plane has landed. The plans were going well until a phone call to Air Canada Cargo in France...

Elsa, English Setter dog, wet profile.

The person on the phone was apparently very polite to the human, but said that if they arrived later I was going to be left in the plane. I would not be walked, given food or water, I would remain in my crate until someone finally came to pick me up! We are not sure if the French side of Air Canada Cargo does not know about the services offered in Toronto or if the services are just not available. My risk averse human decided to change travelling plans.

Abandoning me in France is not considered an option by the humans (great, right?!), and as I mentioned before luckily I don't have a short muzzle, so I'm allowed on the cargo hold of the humans' plane. According to the many stories, recommendations and reviews it seems that most problems with pet air travel happen during layovers, so to minimize the dangers and stress of the trip the humans decided to change their travel plans too!

Now the three of us will take a direct flight from Paris to Toronto, leaving our house in the countryside a few days earlier. Once in Toronto they will rent a car and we'll take a long road trip of five to six days all the way from Toronto to Calgary. The humans decided they don't want me to get on a second plane, I'll fly only if absolutely necessary!

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